Broadway is now learning what Palm Beach County audiences haveknown for the past two seasons -- Matt Loehr is a star in themaking.
The charismatic performer and three-time Carbonell Award winner iscurrently featured in New York in "The Book of Mormon," still thehottest ticket on Broadway after two years. But he plans to keepcoming back to South Florida to appear at the Maltz JupiterTheatre, his second stage home, where he dazzled audiences lastyear in "The Music Man."
"It was one of the best experiences of my life," says Mobile, Ala.native Loehr, 35, of the Maltz. "The theater was so awesome, thereception of the shows was so great and it started a shift in mythinking. I said, 'Ahh, I do like this. I think I can keep dongthis for a while. It's good to be out ofNew York.'~HOA~128~128~"
Still, it was while he was starring at the Maltz as Prof. HaroldHill last fall that Loehr got a call to send in an audition tape toreplace a prominent supporting cast member in "Book of Mormon," theblasphemously funny musical by Matt Stone and Trey Parker, thecreators of "South Park."
Loehr had been on Broadway before -- in "Fosse," "Elf," "Evita,"even the original cast of "The Producers" -- but he was starting tobe pigeonholed in an ensemble/understudy slot.
Of understudying, he says, "I loved it, but felt I didn't want tokeep doing that. If I couldn't get some of the roles I was tryingout for, then maybe my time was better spent out of New York."
Two years ago, just as he began considering working far fromBroadway, Loehr's agent told him that the Maltz was looking for atriple-threat performer to play tap-dancing playboy Bobby Childs inthe Gershwins' musical, "Crazy for You." Loehr nailed the audition,won the leading role and, subsequently, his first Carbonell Award.
So Maltz's producing artistic director Andrew Kato did somethinghe'd never done before -- he asked Loehr for his wish list ofroles. When the performer mentioned "The Music Man's" charmingswindler Harold Hill, and suggested ways the character could becomemore of a fast-on-his-feet dancer, Kato hired him before evensigning a director for the show.
He doesn't regret it for a moment.
"The show was re-envisioned to really showcase what he does. Matt'sown personal charm went a long way towards playing that con man,"says Kato. "The charisma that he exudes and that is appreciated bythe Maltz audiences, I think made for a very good 'Music Man.' Mattis really kind of an old- school musical theater star, in that he'sa triple threat, with that ability to sparkle onstage."
Also a big fan of Loehr's is choreographer Shea Sullivan, whoworked with him at the Maltz on both "Crazy for You" and "The MusicMan."
As she says of the latter, "Matt really was the reason I wanted todo this show. It is so exciting to have a muse and he is that forme. He inspires me and that is exciting for me as a choreographer."
If you judge results by awards, Loehr had a banner season. Lastmonth he picked up two more Carbonells, one for "The Music Man" andanother for an earlier supporting role in the Maltz's "Hello,Dolly!"
"I really was not expecting that," Loehr recalls. "I thought, 'OK,you won last year, don't get greedy. Truly remember what a thrillit is to be nominated. And enjoy that both shows did so well.'
"So when they called my name for 'Hello, Dolly!,' I was floored andexcited, just couldn't quite believe it. Then I thought, 'Well,there's no way I'll hear my name again.' And then I did and Ithought, 'They're gonna get sick of me really soon.'~HOA~128~128~"
Probably not. Loehr is contracted to play Elder McKinley in "Bookof Mormon" for another nine months, after which he hopes the Maltzwill continue working through his wish list.
"I love the idea of doing 'Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,'" he enthuses."I think that would be reealllly fun. It's something a little morecontemporary, which I like. Another thing I'd love to do - - I'dneed time to learn rope tricks -- but I'd like to try 'The WillRogers Follies.' Then there are other things like 'How to Succeedin Business,' that's always been a dream."
In a perfect New York stage world, Loehr wouldn't be available forPalm Beach County audiences.
"If Broadway were better off today, I believe Matt would be a starthere. Period," says Kato. "My goal is to let the Maltz be a homein between his Broadway things so that his resume also has thosestarring roles."
"I think his future is very bright," concludes Kato.
"As long as he needs a home, then we will be supporting him."
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